How to Take Minutes Effectively
This article covers the following aspects of taking minutes during a meeting:
- The roles and responsibilities of the chair
- How to work in partnership with the chair
- How to listen effectively
- How to take notes during the meeting
- The purpose of clarifying unsure things
The Role of the Meeting Chair
The meeting chair is the person who leads and facilitates the meeting. The chairperson should be able to use all the ideas and information from the members of the meeting and develop a decision from there.
The chairperson should be a hardworking and responsible person, able to make fair decisions, have a background knowledge of how the department and the organisation functions, and should be a facilitator and not a dictator. He/She should encourage people to express their opinions and also have good control over the group. The chairperson has to be impartial in making any decisions and deal with issues tactfully. The chairperson also needs to be patient, tolerant and lead the team.
The Chair's Formal Responsibilities Within a Meeting
The roles and responsibilities of a chairperson within the meeting are:
- Make sure that the meeting is planned effectively.
- Arrive on time at the venue, at least ten to fifteen minutes earlier than the starting time of the meeting.
- Be welcoming and friendly with the members and facilitate team spirit.
- Consult the secretary or PA or administrator before the meeting, regarding all the items of business that need to be discussed at the meeting.
- Check the agenda for the meeting before it is being distributed
- Check previous meeting minutes and all other reports that will be presented at the meeting
- Check for quorum (a minimum number of people needed in order to do business), open the meeting and conduct the meeting
- Introduce themselves and other participants to the members present
- Give a brief summary of the agenda
- To explain the purpose of the meeting clearly and what is expected to be achieved out of the meeting
- Go by the agenda and confine to it, unless there is a reason for change, which is done with consent from the members present.
- To explain the purpose of each agenda item.
- Complete discussion on one particular item, take a decision and layout action points in an efficient manner before passing on to the next item on the agenda
- Summarise each agenda item after the discussion is complete and a decision is taken along with action points and check to see if everyone agrees, if not, seek for clarification
- Give everyone who wishes an opportunity to speak and also motivate the quiet people to speak or to contribute their ideas too.
- When more than one person speaks at the same time, decide on who is to speak
- Resist any challenging situations that might arise from anyone superior/senior to the chairperson present in the meeting and cope with it without fear.
- Arguments or discussions that continue for a long time should be brought to an end in a firm but polite way.
- Act fast to improve the situation in the meeting when it becomes tensed due to arguments or disagreements
- Use good questioning techniques to arrive at clear cut and accurate decisions
- Close the meeting formally when all items are dealt with appropriately, indicate a date and time for next meeting and thank everyone for attending.
How to Work in Partnership With the Chair When Taking Minutes
Minute taking can sometimes be quite a tedious task, especially when too many people are talking together all at once or when disagreements and arguments continue or when discussions deviate and become complicated. In these kinds of situations, liaising with the chair will be beneficial, make the task of minute taking simpler and help writing minutes with confidence.
During the Meeting
As the chairperson controls the meeting and the discussions, it is important for the minute taker to sit close to the chair, so that it makes communication with the chair easier. A good chair will also, always take the minute taker’s situation into account and will control discussions in such a way that more than one person does not speak at any given time or there are not too many interruptions.
For example, when situations like these happen, my manager (who usually chairs meetings for our team) always makes sure that I have recorded the necessary information and is happy to repeat anything that I might not have understood or missed. My manager also makes sure to check with me that I have written down each item along with the necessary decisions and action points, after each agenda item has been completed. Even before the meeting, my manager always advices me that I can ask them for clarification as the meeting proceeds if I find it difficult to understand or follow the discussion.
Also sometimes when the discussions deviate from the main issue towards another issue similar to the main one, the chair can forget to take a decision on that item as a result of deviations towards other issues. In such cases, working closely with the chair can help the minute taker remind the chair that a decision needs to be made on that issue before proceeding to the next item.
When you are in doubt about whether or not to record something, always confirm with the chair. This will avoid recording unnecessary matters and saves time and effort.
Before and After the Meeting
Even before the meeting starts, the minute taker can have a discussion with the chair about how the meeting will take place, the items that will be discussed, how the discussion will take place and what necessarily need to be minuted.
After the meeting, while writing down the minutes, if the minute taker has any difficulties with anything relevant to the discussions, they should have a quick word with the chair to clarify things, as hesitation to do this will end up with inaccurate information in the minutes.
How to Listen Effectively
Listening is a very important skill and it comes with practice. Most people these days, just hear things or just listen, but do not actively or effectively listen. There is a lot of difference between hearing, listening and active listening. I have recently researched a lot about these skills and techniques and even written a hub on active listening. It helps a person in all walks of life, be it personal or professional, and also helps improve ones personality.
So, what is effective listening?
While taking minutes, you listen to the speakers actively absorbing all the information regarding the discussion with interest and importance, and then you reproduce the information in the form of a document called minutes which helps people who did not attend the meeting to gain information about what was discussed in the meeting. This also serves as a legal document for the organisation and helps with future reference and is also a permanent record of all what happened in the meeting.
Listening skills take time to develop, but for sure develops with practice. Most people are good at talking but not listening. Also paraphrasing what you have heard, in appropriate ways, takes a lot of creativity. One can practice listening skills by listening to lectures, debates and other similar materials that require concentration. Here we will discuss about how to effectively listen in a meeting as discussions, arguments and disagreements happen.
Tips for Effective Listening
To listen effectively:
- One needs to first understand the fact that the listening process does not just involve receiving messages, but it also depends on other components like, thinking, focusing and active response.
- One needs to concentrate on the speaker and not let their mind wander around. You need to be attentive and relaxed
- Take notes simultaneously as you hear, as this will help you to concentrate on the discussion.
- Listen to every word that the speaker says and picture the situation or logic in the discussion in your mind
- Concentrate even if the discussion is boring, because it is you who needs to bring out accurate information in the minutes.
- Do not interrupt when a discussion is in progress, or when someone is speaking. Instead wait for the discussion to end or the speaker to finish and then bring up your questions for clarification
- Building your vocabulary makes you a better listener otherwise, you might be listening to words that you do not understand
- Always note down any new words that you did not understand and clarify them with the chair
- Doing some background study on the matters of discussion before the meeting will help you listen effectively, and get you involved completely in the listening process.
- Be ready with your pen and paper before the speaker starts to speak.
- You need to learn to adjust to situations in the meeting room physiologically and psychologically and to the physical factors in the room as some of these might have a negative effect and others a positive effect.
- The accents of speakers can sometimes hinder effective listening, but one needs to improve their skills of overcoming all these barriers to become an effective listener.
- No two meetings will be the same, no two discussions will be the same and no two speakers will speak the same way and so you need to learn to adjust to situations.
- Always focus on the key / important points
- Listen as if you are required to re-present this information to a different audience later (you will anyway do this in the form of minutes), this will help you concentrate and listen effectively to every word that the speaker says
- In meetings where sensitive issues are discussed, also make sure to watch the body language of the speaker, rather than keeping your head down writing notes seriously.
- Do not let anything or anyone around distract you, and do not turn your attention to people coming in or leaving the room while the speaker is speaking.
- Use appropriate ways to take notes depending on the type of matters discussed and this will help you to be engaged in the listening activity.
- Do not write down everything but just the main points
- Do not fidget or play with anything in your hands, or doodle or watch the clock. This does not help you listen and can affect the people around you too.
- As a final point, just imagine how you would want your audience to listen if you were a speaker, and be the same kind of listener, this will help you to be an effective listener
God gave man two ears but only one mouth that he might hear twice as much as he speaks.— Greek philosopher Epictetus
How to Take Notes During Discussions
Taking notes is the important task or part of the minute-taking process. When taking notes, one does not record the words that were used in the discussion, but one records the discussions that took place in the meeting.
This is a very important and quite a difficult task depending on the nature of the meeting and what was discussed. This also depends on how well the meeting goes, how the members cooperate, how the chair helps and summarises and most importantly how well you are prepared for the meeting. Any documents relevant to the meeting that were distributed or circulated prior to the meeting should be looked through, so that you are familiar with what is being discussed.
For example, when an investigation is going on, and a meeting is held to discuss about it, you might be called in to take minutes for the third or fifth meeting related to that investigation. In situations like this, the meeting will proceed with the most recent updates, and past information will only be summarised in the meeting. Hence it is very important to go through the previous minutes related to this investigation and also any relevant documents, so that you get an idea of what to expect at the meeting. This will help you understand situations and incidents that are discussed at the meeting.
Tips for Discussion Note-Taking
During discussions, follow the following procedure and tips for taking notes:
- First of all, have a thorough understanding of what minutes are, why minutes are taken and the importance of minutes. This will help you follow the discussion and make note of the important and necessary information as the discussion continues. As mentioned above, where documents are available, always make sure that you gather background information about what will be discussed. This will make the task of note taking a lot simpler.
- In situations where the discussions or conversations are lengthy and complicated, always focus in the important aspects of the discussion like, what is the focus of the discussion, what is the decision, if available, why this decision was taken, who has to action the decision and when / within which timeframe the decision has to be actioned.
- Make sure that you include a summary of the discussion at the start before writing down about the discussion, as this will give an overview and idea about the discussion to people who were unable to attend. Also if these people had to participate in a future meeting, this minute will give them all the necessary information that they will require.
- Write down important views and opinions of all the people present.
- Make sure you listen actively and effectively following the discussion without letting you mind wander or think about anything else. This way you will not miss out on anything important.
- Choose the best and easy method that will help you with taking notes.
- When recording action points, it is always best to do it in a way that is easier to look at, clearly with names of people who need to action it and the timescale.
- Use headings, as this will help you follow the notes later, and you can have different sections of the meeting under different headings. Leave some space under each section, so that it is easier to add notes underneath if anyone comes up with new points or ideas as the meeting proceeds.
- If you know short-hand, it is best to write up notes using short-hand and also use abbreviations wherever possible.
- Practice using bullet points, as this will make the more readable, look neat, and simpler while preparing the minutes.
- Always clarify unclear points or discussions with your chair.
- Do not forget to have one or two spare pens and pencils.
The Purpose of Clarifying Points You Are Unsure About
Clarification is a process where you resolve areas of confusion with the speaker and check if your understanding of the discussion is correct. In order for the minutes to be accurate, one needs to clarify any points that they do not understand as the meeting proceeds
The purpose of clarifying points you are unsure are:
- It tells the speaker that you are effectively listening and trying to understand the message
- Makes sure that you have understood the right information
- Helps to review understanding
- Encourages the speaker to talk openly
- Helps you write the minutes error free
- Avoids misunderstandings and misinterpretations
- Improves interpersonal skills
To read about the role of meetings, why meetings are held, the legal and organisational requirements that may apply to taking minutes, why minutes are taken and their benefits, the reason why minutes have to be accurate and the different documents used in meetings as part of the minute-taking process, prior and post meeting, please refer to this article: Taking Minutes.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.